Team Movistar’s official presentation is Tuesday in Madrid, but Franco Pellizotti won’t be signing a late-hour contract with the Spanish team because his ongoing doping case remains unresolved.
Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue confirmed to VeloNews that the Spanish squad was interested in the curly-haired Italian, but said the rider’s unresolved legal battle over his biological passport ban dating back to last season scuttled any chance of a deal.
“There’s an interest in him because he’s proven his quality as a rider. What’s most important right now is that he gets his situation settled and he’s OK to race again with any complications,” Unzue told VeloNews. “It’s still an uncertainty and until it’s resolved, it’s really not possible to try to move forward with him in these conditions.”
Pellizotti finds himself in the crosshairs of a fight over the validity of the UCI’s biological passport and its credibility to use it as a weapon to impose racing bans.
Last spring, Pellizotti was sidelined before the Giro d’Italia after the UCI said that irregular data in his biological passport. Italian officials last fall overruled that decision, saying there was not enough evidence to “prove manipulation of his blood.”
Earlier this month, the UCI filed an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport that should be decisive in determining whether or not the UCI can use the biological passport as a stand-alone disciplinary tool. The former Liquigas rider, meanwhile, has vowed to sue the UCI for damages and lost wages.
Until the UCI appeal, it appeared that Pellizotti was cleared to return to competition and that a deal with Movistar looked imminent.
Unzue also said there’s “no truth” to the stories that Denis Menchov could move across from Geox-TMC to Movistar in the wake of Geox-TMC missing out on an invitation to race the Tour de France.
Team content with Campagnolo electronic shifting
Unzue also expressed satisfaction over the new electronic Campagnolo shifting system that the team inaugurated earlier this month with stage victories at both the Tour Down Under and the Tour de San Luís in Argentina.
“On balance, the riders are very content with the gruppo. All the feedback we’ve had so far from the riders was very positive. To tell the truth, we didn’t even have a lot of time to even train on the bikes before we raced (at Tour Down Under), so understandably there was some apprehension,” Unzue said. “We only had the bikes built in mid-December, so some of the riders were wondering how they would perform under the stresses of a race.”
Movistar is the first major team to use the electric system in competition this season. Fran Ventoso won a sprint stage at the Tour Down Under and Xavier Tondo won a time trial at San Luís.
“From the initial feedback, everyone is very satisfied, from the racers to the mechanics to the sport directors, everyone has expressed their enthusiasm for the gruppo,” Unzue continued. “It was a very good start to the season, especially winning in sprints and time trials, which are not usually where you see us winning.”
Team rollout Tuesday in Madrid
Movistar will be unveiling its new multimillion-dollar, multi-year sponsorship during a team presentation Tuesday in Madrid.
Movistar is the mobile phone branding for Telefónica, Spain’s largest telecommunications company that was privatized in the 1990s and has operations throughout Europe and Latin America. Telefónica is the world’s third largest telecommunications company, behind China Mobile and Vodafone.
The event will be significant because it marks the first major Spanish sponsor to back a top-flight Spanish team in nearly a decade.
“It’s not just important, it’s very, very important, that a big company like this, in this time of economic crisis, has made a big bet on cycling,” Unzue said. “We have reason to be thankful that they have put a trust in the sport of cycling. Cycling has had its share of lumps, but the sport is full of people who are working in a serious manner, who doing things the right way. It’s great news for cycling.”
Spanish sponsors have been reluctant to back cycling following a string of damaging, high-profile doping scandals coupled with a devastating economic crisis that has left Spain suffering 20 percent unemployment.
ONCE, Banesto and Kelme all left the sport since the early to mid-2000s, leaving Spanish-based teams to look beyond the Pyrénées to find secure backing. For the past several seasons, Euskaltel-Euskadi has been Spain’s only nationally backed elite-level team, but even that team has a heavy Basque flavor and does not identify itself as a Spanish team.
The arrival of Movistar allows Unzue to continue with one of cycling’s longest-running franchises. The team debuted in 1980 with the Reynolds banner and rode through the Miguel Indurain glory days in the 1990s under the Banesto title.
Following Banesto’s exit midway through the 2005 season, Unzue’s team got a lifeline from the Balearic islands and then the French savings and loan, Caisse d’Epargne, which sponsored the team as a co-sponsor in 2005 and then as title sponsor from 2006-2010.
Movistar came on board relatively late in the season, too late for Unzue to try to lure away Alberto Contador. That’s something that Unzue might be quietly thankful for now that Contador is battling doping allegations of his own.
“We’re a team that’s always had a big captain, but we won’t have one this year,” Unzue told VeloNews in an earlier interview. “We’re kind of like we were when we first started Reynolds in the 1980s, it’s almost as if we’re starting anew. This year will be a transition year for the team, but we still have high expectations. We want to solidify the team this season to build a solid block, then we can see who we can attract next season. We will have a strong team despite not having a big captain.”